The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

March 8, 2019

Checking stored flower tubers

Several weeks ago I blogged about how I store dahlias. Did you keep some of yours too? If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to check on them to see how they’re doing. Serious dahlia growers begin planting their tubers in mid-March, in pots and in a greenhouse of course.

I opened mine up right after the polar vortex blew through a couple of weeks ago. They were in a spot that normally stays cool but never freezes. However, this fall I rearranged boxes and stuff in the garage. Without realizing it, doing that must have changed the airflow pattern and allowed cold air to settle in the spot where I stored my dahlia tubers. I didn’t have a thermometer in that area but I knew it got cold because the storage bags were partly frozen. That’s not a good sign.

They didn’t look too bad when I opened them up to take a peek, but some looked to be partly frozen. The outside layer of damp sawdust was lightly froze. Instead of warming the tubers up to thaw, I moved them to another more temperate part of the garage to slowly warm up. Today I finally brought them out to see how they were doing.

It's very easy to tell the damaged tubers from the undamaged.

It’s very easy to tell the damaged tubers from the undamaged. The one on the left was frozen.

As suspected, most of them were damaged beyond salvaging, I’m looking at about an eighty percent loss. The ones that survived look healthy though. I’ll re-pack the good ones in fresh sawdust and compost the rest.

I also had some elephant ears tubers in storage, those I kept in the pots that they grew in last summer. They look pretty good. I gave them a small amount of water whenever the soil looked really dry — maybe once every other week or so. In the spring I’ll knock them out of the pot, divide them and replant.

You can't see much in this photo but the elephant ear roots are looking good.

You can’t see much in this photo but the elephant ear roots are looking good.

Other large pots have cannas that I stored the same way as the elephant ears, right in the pots they grew. They got some water through the winter too but not as much as the elephant ears. I wanted to keep them a little on the dry side so they wouldn’t get water logged and rot. Remember, they are dormant and not growing so they don’t really need much water. On the other hand you don’t want them to dry out and shrivel up. It’s something you have to learn trough experience. I usually ere on the side of less water.

The canna bulbs are in fine shape at this point in time.

The canna bulbs are in fine shape at this point in time.

Unfortunately, we lost a large geranium to the cold. It was one that we’ve been saving and taking cutting from for years and years.  During the most recent warm-up, we set the potted plant out on the front porch and — you guessed it — forgot it was there and it froze overnight. There may be some dormant buds that survived, I’ll let you know how that turns out.

Bob

 

 

December 6, 2018

Digging dahlia tubers late

Last week I talked about my potatoes that I dug up very late in the season. What I didn’t mention was that same day I also dug my dahlia tubers that were still in the ground. Turns out they where in fine shape shape as well.

It makes perfect sense that the tubers would look so nice.  The ideal storage temperature for dahlias is around forty degrees Fahrenheit and that’s about what the soil temperature was. I checked the soil temperature in my garden again this morning and found that even now, during the first week of December, it’s running about 40F.

What kind of surprised me was how warm the soil is even with the colder than normal November we experienced. Looking back on the several weeks,  a pretty good set of circumstances lined up for my dahlias. First, the tops were froze back by the frost back i October. Then I left them in the ground for well over a month. That allowed the tubers to develop healthy “eyes”, just like the eyes on a potato. With strong eyes, my tubers should make good, strong growth next spring — that is if I take good care of them over winter.

Tubers before separating.

Tubers before separating.

There’s a few simple tricks to keeping dahlias over winter. The first is to store them at the proper temperature and we already know what that is — just don’t let them freeze.

The second crucial factor is humidity. If left out in the air during storage, the tubers will dry out due to the low humidity we typically have in our homes in the winter heating season. So the solution is to store them in air tight containers. For a small amount of tubers, maybe under a hundred or so, I find keeping them in zip-loc bags is a good way to go. I usually separate the clumps of tubers into singles, then place one or two in each bag. To maintain good humidity I add moist sawdust to the bag. If you have more that one tuber per bag, the sawdust also keeps the tubers from touching each other. While you’re at it, add a tag so you know what variety it is.

This is a typical dahlia tuber but they come in wide variety of other shapes and sizes.

This is a typical dahlia tuber but they come in wide variety of other shapes and sizes.

Even though I had success in the past using peat moss, potting mix or garden soil, I’ve found that sawdust works best for me. I’ve heard of people using shredded newspaper but have never tried it. However, with so many people opting to get their news online, printed newspaper is getting harder and harder to find these days . You can easily solve that dilemma by subscribing to Detroit News home-delivery, but I digress.

The third and final secrete is to check on them once in a while. Open them up and make sure the packing material is still moist. Also, toss any rotting tubers you might find. It’s pretty disappointing to open them up in the spring only to find out your tubers were ruined due to neglect over winter.

Those plants you bought from the garden center and planted in your garden, most likely grew a set of usable tubers. Since soil temperatures are still hovering around 40 degrees F, it may be fun to check in your garden to see if your dahlia tubers are still good. Dahlia farms are asking $3.00 and up for each tuber (not including shipping) so it may be worth your while to poke around in the garden. Let us know in the comment section what you find.

Bob

 

 

February 1, 2018

A local interpretation of Groundhog Day

Growing up in a rural area of southern Michigan, I had a chance to absorb a lot of our local farm culture. Back them there were plenty of old-timers who, in their younger days,  had farmed their acreage with teams of horses. Those gray-haired farmers had plenty of advice and time-worn proverbs to pass along. One that stands out for me is the meaning of Groundhog Day.

I don’t know the history of  Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney but the town has so successfully managed to turn Groundhog Day into its own event that many people don’t even know, or care, that this minor holiday has been around way before weatherman Phil Connors got caught in that time-loop in Pennsylvania. The first time I ever heard of the town of Punxsutawney was on an episode of  The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. I’m not sure in what context it was, I just thought it was funny to hear a cartoon character say “Punxsuatawney Pennsylvania”.

Most of the farmers in our area had some sort of livestock, often it was dairy cows. They would grow corn and hay as feed for their animals rather than purchase it off site from somewhere else. That meant storing feed on the farm; dried corn, still on the cobs, in corn-cribs and hay up in the second story hay mows above the livestock area on the ground floor. Farmers could easily judge by eye how much their livestock were eating.

Feeding livestock through the winter could be a challenge if the previous growing season’s harvest was below normal. Groundhog Day was, according to those farmers I knew, the half-way point of winter. By that they meant, if you still had half of your feed or more left in storage by Groundhog Day, you will make it through to spring. If not, then potentially you would run short of feed.

In our rural elementary school, Groundhogs Day was a fairly big deal. Our teachers never mentioned the practical side of the day but we did learn about the whole six weeks before spring thing. My classmates would come in to school on the morning of February second and excitedly report if they thought there was enough sunlight for a groundhog to cast a shadow.

I still use this day as reminder when I look in my deep-freezer and estimate how much frozen garden produce I have left from last year’s harvest.

Bob

 

March 28, 2014

Seed savers legacy

Filed under: Seed Starting,Storage and Preservation — bob @ 1:32 pm

Many long time gardeners have tried to save seeds only to let them go after a year or two. There’s been a few times in years past when, for one reason or another, I’ve let varieties slip through my fingers.

The best luck I’ve had is keeping my own variety of tomato seeds for years, as I’ve written about in past blog posts. But that pales in comparison to an Ann Arbor, Michigan area gardener who died recently. He left behind a collection of seeds that he had been saving for decades. Over 60 varieties of heritage annuals, biennials and vegetable seeds are in this treasure trove.

All of that valuable plant genetics could have been lost in a single year if not for a group of like-minded gardeners. Several of his friends got together and came up with a plan to save the work of that dedicated seed saver.

Each person took a few varieties and agreed to grow them. Then, at the end of the season, they would harvest the seeds and share them with the rest of the group. That way no one particular gardener had to take on the responsibility of growing all 60 varieties.

Many of those plant varieties were around before the gardener was born. The seeds passed into his hands for awhile, he nurtured and propagated  them. Now they are passing into new hands.

What a terrific gift to pass on to a new generation.

Bob

December 21, 2012

Taking Care of Sauerkraut Crock

Filed under: Storage and Preservation — bob @ 2:20 pm

Sometimes it feels like I’m still gardening even though the growing season is over.

For example, I’ve been tending my batch of sauerkraut for nearly a month now. Every couple of days I check it to make sure everything’s going OK. The anaerobic bacteria that ferment the cabbage can’t tolerate air so, I need to make sure all of the cabbage is covered completely with cabbage juice.

Mold likes to grow on the surfaces of the crock — or food-safe plastic pail — and the plates I use to cover the kraut. Mold has to be cleaned off as it appears. It’s sort of like removing weeds from a garden as they start to grow. The mold is not only unappetizing, but it can spoil the kraut too.

Now that it has fermented for a while, I harvest a smaller layer of kraut every time I check it. If a minuscule amount of mold or aerobic bacteria try to get started there,  it gets removed. Of course, I throw out any that is spoiled.

It took 12 heads of cabbage from my garden to make five gallons of sauerkraut.

So, I’m tending a garden that has billions and billions of probiotic bacteria and they need to be well cared for.

I made my first batch of sauerkraut way back in 1978. It was so successful that I’ve continued to make it ever since. It’s something I look forward to every fall.

I eat my sauerkraut raw, straight from the crock. It has a satisfying crunch and a tangy flavor that is different with each batch. Now, if I cooked it, I’d kill all of those probiotic bacteria I’ve been nurturing.

By the way in my Polish family, everyone calls it kapusta, not sauerkraut.

Bob

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